Town Meeting Votes To Move Forward On Community Path Review; A New Court Coming To Winn Brook

Photo: The easement along the north side of the MBTA commuter rail tracks adjacent the French/Mahoney property off of Brighton Street.

An attempt by a prominent Belmont resident to kill off funding for a next step review of the proposed community path was beaten back by Belmont Town Meeting on Monday, June 7 showing the at times controversial project continues to hold wide support in town.

The amendment submitted by Frank French to return $200,000 to the Community Preservation Committee was defeated handily, 64-192, coming after a wild debate that saw French’s attorney make what appeared to be not so subtle threat the town is likely to face millions in legal judgments if it pursued the path project. That was followed by Belmont’s long-time state senator Will Brownsberger informing Town Meeting that it was French who wasn’t holding up his end of a decades-old bargain with the state that allowed his family to build on an old railroad right of way.

In fact, according to town officials, the engineering firm working on the path submitted a revised plan Monday morning that no longer required any forced taking which French was opposing, rendering his amendment – which took nearly two hours to debate – effectively moot.

Monday’s meeting – the second of four nights in which members would debate budget and financial issues – followed the script of the first in which a single binding article dominated the nearly four hour session as the meeting took up four projects presented by the Community Preservation Committee. Two projects, transferring $250,000 to the Belmont Housing Trust to initiate affordable housing partnerships and $35,000 in design costs as part of the renovation of Payson Park, breezed through with little trouble.

It didn’t come as a surprise the $200,000 sought by the Community Path Project Committee to determine the right of way for phase one of the path – from the Clark Street bridge to the Cambridge line at Brighton Street as well as a pedestrian tunnel under the MBTA commuter rail tracks at Alexander Ave – was set to begin a lively discourse as French filed his amendment to put the brakes on the project placing the path’s future on hold and effectively in doubt.

A great primer of the community path project can be found here.

Russ Leino, the chair of the Project Committee, told the assembled members (attending over Zoom or viewing on community television) the funds would be used by Nitsch Engineering to prepare a detailed Right of Way (ROW) plan as part of the requirements to obtain federal Transportation Improvement Program money that will pay for the majority of the construction.

The work will determine if any private property will be impacted by the construction, most likely that will be temporary and minor such as access to the property to complete the design work, said Leino, although there could be permanent impacts such as repairing retaining walls and at pinch points “but will not actually run over the property.” Owners can “donate” that access to the town or have an appraisal done to determine a fair dollar compensation which will require another Community Preservation Committee request to fund. ROW work isn’t new to Belmont as the town did a similar project when the state renovated Belmont Street and Trapelo Road and the recent completed Welling Safe Routes to School project. The plan is critical as the federal government and state will not move forward funding without it.

Saying his committee – as well as the town and Select Board – are committed to minimizing impacts to private property, Leino noted a project of this magnitude will effect someone’s lands. “The funding by this appropriation really has to be completed in order to fully understand and quantify … those impacts for the Town Meeting to decide what you want to do with that information,” said Leino.

French, Precinct 2, said he and the Mahoney family that jointly owns the land at the corner of the Brighton and the commuter rail tracks and from where they run their businesses, have granted an easement to the path but are opposed to any permanent takings. French mentioned the long-stand complaint by those opposing the path that it should have been placed on the south side of the commuter tracks (more on that to come). Because there was the likelihood of an eminent domain taking, the families have “consulted” attorney and Belmont resident George McLaughlin.

McLaughlin initially came before Town Meeting not forwarding his client’s claim but his own experience of 37 years of successfully litigating Eminent Domain lawsuits winning millions for his clients. When McLaughlin returned to the amendment at hand, he spoke at length that in his opinion, Belmont has “vastly underestimated” the potential damages from this path to residential property along Channing Road.

This line of argument apparently was far afield from a pre-meeting agreement with Town Moderator Micheal Widmer on what would be discussed. That consensus quickly blew up as Widmer and McLaughlin took issue with how much leeway would be given in arguing the amendment.

”Mr. McLaughlin, as we’ve discussed before this meeting. Eminent Domain is beyond the scope so I’ll repeat, you need to talk about the path,” said Widmer.

“What I’m trying to inform the Town Meeting members is that if they go ahead with this plan, I think they are pursuing a plan that explore exposes the town to, you know, $4 million in damages,” claimed McLaughlin.

While saying that McLaughlin’s general point on eminent domain was “fine” to bring up, Widmer requested the attorney to “please adhere to my request that you stay with the scope of the discussion,” noting he had done so three times. The back and forth continued with both men saying they had grown frustrated with each others stance with McLaughlin claiming Widmer had “changed the rules” of the debate.

As Widmer attempted to wrangle McLaughlin in – with little success – Town Meeting members began bombarding Town Clerk Ellen Cushman with Point of Order claims noting McLaughlin was well outside the scope of the matter at hand. Widmer pointed out that a town meeting could not be run by those citing rules violations.

While French and McLaughlin spoke on the town taking a portion of the property, Leino presented an “11th hour” development in which Nitsch determined on the previous Friday that the latest design no longer required taking a permanent easement of the French/Mahoney property. “It can be done there on the existing easement. I was happy to see that as a positive development,” said Leino.

And Brownsberger turned French’s claims on their head by reviewing the context of how French’s secured the site in the first place. Brownsberger said in 2008, French – who Brownsberger called a friend who he respects – approached Brownsberger seeking his support in building his business office on the site knowing the right of way would bisect the property. French building sits on a historic railroad right of way, used as far back as the 1870s as the Fitchburg to Lowell connection until passenger service ended in 1927 and commercial rail halted in the 1980s. State statutes requires anyone attempting to build on a rail road right of way to first obtain a determination of inapplicability from the Department of Transportation.

In 2009, Brownsberger helped French get the process rolling to build but only if the Mass DOT which regulates rail right of ways would preserve the possibility of building a bike path from Brighton Street to Belmont Center and not give away the entire right of way which it did.

“So the point is that MASS DOT gave the ability for Mr. French to build … but retains the right to build a bike path through it,” said Brownsberger. While he was allowed to build up to the easement, French also crossed into it to install a stone sign, curbing and parking with the hope that a possible bike path would never be built.

“Now I was chagrined when I learned that Mr. French was upset about this process,” said Brownsberger. While acknowledging that previous design plans from Nitsch appeared to violate the decades old compromise between the state and French, Brownsberger “is very relieved that the discussion over the past week … that there is no need” for any additional land taking in the latest engineering blueprints.

With French’s concerns apparently addressed, “I look forward to continuing to support this path,” working with the state so to “keep solving problems and keep moving this fast forward,” said Brownsberger. “As an elected official, I am absolutely committed to making sure this works within the easement.”

Select Board Member Mark Paolillo next spoke in greater detail how town officials and representatives from Nitsch would keep the path within its prescribed easement. He also addressed the need for the route to travel along the northside of the commuter tracks as being due to the reluctance of the owner of an essential rail spur to negotiate with the town.

With debate open to the public, members sentiments ranged the gambit of why the French amendment was allowed to move forward if the “problem had been solved” to Stephen Rosales from Precinct 8 expressing his support for French via the lyrical talents of Kenny Rogers.

”You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run,” Rosales said, not sung. Despite the Yeoman efforts by the town, “the time has come. Belmont can no longer hold them,” he said noting that the CPC will “ante up” $1.7 million in studies and engineering work without any guarantee of federal or state funding.

Mark Kagan, Precinct 8, said roadblocks such as the French amendment is the reason that popular infrastructure projects are delayed or killed off. Having lived in bike happy the Netherlands, Kagan said cycling is the wave of the future as it promotes safe, fast transportation that is climate friendly. “Let’s vote this down this amendment and move on Belmont, the greater Boston area and the United States into the future,” said Kagan.

The question was called and the subsequent vote on the Amendment was an overwhelming defeat for French. The debate on the $200,000 allocation for ROW costs was anticlimactic and speedy with the article passing, 200 to 50.

Tennis plus one at Winn Brook

Town Meeting voted to add a single tennis court to the existing facility adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School playground and the Joey’s Park Playground.

Jon Marshall, the assistant town manager and recreation director, said an additional court was suited to the site because 1. the town can always use more courts, and 2. an additional tennis court will make for a total of five which is needed to hold regular season and tournament contests by the Belmont High School tennis teams.

Opposition to the new court came from two camps: nearby residents and those who wish to see courts on the high school campus. Melissa McIntyre, Precinct 8, opposed the article, not so much the courts being placed in the neighborhood but the public process the Recreation Commission undertook in approving the location. McIntyre said the strip of green space between Joey’s Park and the courts which will be reduced is an important place that is a place to take a break from the hurly burly of the playground and sport fields. Kathleen “Fitze” Cowing, also Precinct 8, asking why unlike other park and recreation projects the tennis court didn’t go through a two-fpart approval process with a design phase followed by CPC construction funding.

But by 10:45 p.m., the meeting had little energy to go against the CPC’s recommendation and there will be a fifth court at the Winn Brook by the start of the varsity tennis season next April.

New Clay Pit Path Set To Open Mid-November; Vets Memorial A Bit Later

Photo: Work has already begun on the new path around Clay Pit Pond.

It’s been more than two years after Town Meeting gave its OK, but finally, a premier Belmont recreation spot will soon have a new surface that the public will be able to use by Thanksgiving.

In fact, work on the Clay Pit Pond Intergenerational Walking Path had begun by contractor Ronald A Marini Corp. of Auburndale before the contract was signed by the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Sept. 17. The path’s route has been dug up and the ground is being prepped for the installation of the surface material

Marini, a firm Belmont Conservation Commission Agent Mary Trudeau said specializes in municipal parks and creating pathways, submitted the low bid of $388,000 which was accepted by the Selectmen.

The path will be permeable with a crushed stone top – quarried locally in West Roxbury – with drainage along the landscaped route.

Once completed, the path will “feel like you’re walking in a country meadow,” said Trudeau.

The path will stop where the proposed new high school will be built, but discussions with the school’s designers are for possible ways of “sharing” the area along the pond’s edge as a walkway, thus completing the path around Clay Pit. 

“It’s all very exciting,” said Trudeau.

While the contract signed by the board was for the path, in fact, the job includes work on the proposed Veterans Memorial at the Pond. “We really 

Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development, noted that the path and the Veterans Memorial were using Community Preservation Act funds – $216,550 for the path and $103,000 for the memorial – with an additional $68,450 being donated by the Belmont Veteran Memorial Fund to cover additional expenses not originally contemplated.

While the Veterans Memorial will take somewhat longer to complete – the low black granite markers for each of the conflicts Belmont residents are being made – “possibly the bulk of the work on the intergenerational path which will include hydroseeding the site will be completed by Veterans Day, Nov. 11,” said Trudeau.

With Two Days Left, Friends Of PQ Park Nears Fundraising Goal

Photo: Putting up the new sign at PQ Park.

With a deadline of Saturday, Sept. 30, to meet the town’s requirement for private funding of $35,000 for the renovation of PQ Park, the Friends of PQ Park announced today that it is $5,000 shy of its goal in these final days.  

This grassroots effort, led by a team of volunteers called Friends of PQ Park, has been very successful thanks to the generosity and support of the Belmont community. Donors consist primarily of those who feel connected to PQ and to preserving our playgrounds and fields. This funding will supplement Community Preservation Act funds approved for the renovation. 

“If we can raise the remaining funds, we can act upon our design team’s plan that is going to be delivered earlier than expected,” says Ogden Sawyer, Friends of PQ Park treasurer.

“This is fantastic news, making it possible to break ground in early spring of 2018,’ said Sawyer.

“While the effort to raise $30,000 in 30 days has been an ambitious undertaking, we are thrilled with the success of this campaign.  We really need to push these last two days,” Ogden continues.  “We are making this plea today to our community to help us raise the last $5,000 before this Saturday’s deadline.  Any and all donations are welcome!”

“We are making this plea today to our community to help us raise the last $5,000 before this Saturday’s deadline. Any and all donations are welcome,” he said.

Visit the website to learn more and make your donation. Alternatively, checks should be sent to “Friends of PQ Park,” 31 Walnut St, Belmont MA, 02478.

The Friends of PQ Park, Inc., is a non-profit organization formed in 2017, following the favorable recommendation of funding for the revitalization of PQ Park by Belmont’s Community Preservation Committee.

Applications For 2018 Community Preservation Funding Now Available

Photo: The Underwood Pool

Could your group or committee use a few dollars to complete a community project that involves acquiring or improving open space and recreation land, rehabbing or preserving historic sites, or goes to support affordable housing?

If “yes” is the answer, the town’s Community Preservation Committee has about a million dollars waiting to spend on your worthy venture in the coming 2018 fiscal year. And applications to start the process are available today.

The CPC, which distributes the total of a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes and an annual contribution of state funds for a wide range of proposals, has released preliminary applications for the 2017 funding cycle. You can download the preliminary application online here.

Applicants are invited to attend the CPC’s Public Meeting on Sept. 14 to ask any questions they may have regarding the application process.

The deadline for returning your application is Friday, Sept. 29 for those projects to be eligible for the next round in the process.

In the past, CPC funding has been distributed to the Belmont Housing Authority for much-needed infrastructure upgrades of housing under its control, to help fund the second phase of the PQ Playground Revitalization Project, updating the Town Clerk’s records, and for the repair of tennis courts at the Grove Street Playground. It was also instrumental in major projects such as the Underwood Pools and the building of Joey’s Park.

For more information, contact the Community Preservation Hotline at 617-993-2774 or send an e-mail to Michael Trainor at mtrainor@belmont-ma.gov

Historic Resources Survey Makes Public Debut on Thursday

Photo: Redtop, the historic house located at 90 Somerset St. It was once the home of William Dean Howells and family.

After two years of compiling and sorting data and information, the summary findings of the Belmont Historic Resources Survey will be presented in the Board of Selectmen’s Meeting Room, at 7 p.m. this Thursday, Dec. 8.

The town-wide survey of historic properties, conducted by Preservation Consultant Lisa Mausolf, was funded by a grant of $115,000 from the Community Preservation Committee in 2013.

“The Historic District Commission is excited that the historic survey project is nearing completion,” said Lauren Meier, co-chair of the Belmont Historic District Commission.

“It fills in a number of gaps in the documentation about Belmont’s historic resources and will be a valuable tool for the Commission going forward. We are grateful to the Community Preservation Committee and Town Meeting for making this possible,” said Meier.

The survey is an update of the 1984 book Belmont: The Architecture and Development of the Town of Homes, a comprehensive architectural and historic survey of Belmont created by the Boston University Preservation Studies Program. 

In 2013, the Belmont Historic District Commission embarked on revisiting the data, hiring Mausolf to update forms with new information and prepare new forms for resources that had been overlooked in the previous effort.   

The information collected can inform state and federal agencies when federally or state funded projects are planned that might adversely affect a significant cultural resource.  

On the local level, the new inventory can help communities identify significant resources and prioritize future preservation activities including listing properties on the National Register of Historic Places and establishing local historic districts or neighborhood conservation districts.  

The inventory also serves as a basis for the Belmont Historic District Commission to determine which of the town’s significant historic buildings should be subject to the Demolition Delay Bylaw.

Preliminary Applications For 2017 Community Preservation Funding Now Available

Photo: A path along Clay Pit Pond has received funding from the Community Preservation Committee.

Do you or your group have a community project that could use a few dollars to complete?

Does the project involve acquiring or improving open space and recreation land, rehabbing or preserving historic sites, or goes to support affordable housing? If you can say “yes” to those two criteria, the town’s Community Preservation Committee has about a million dollars waiting to spend on your worthy venture in the coming fiscal year. 

The committee, which distributes the total of a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes and an annual contribution of state funds for a wide-range of proposals, has released preliminary applications for the 2017 funding cycle. 

The deadline for the initial applications – which is available online here – is Sept. 30 for those projects to be eligible for the next round in the process.

The CPC will also hold a public meeting on Sept. 9, at which time interested parties can ask questions regarding the application process.

In the past, CPC funding has been distributed to the Belmont Housing Authority for much-needed infrastructure upgrades of housing under its control, to jump start the construction of the new Underwood Pool, the design and construction of a multiuse path around Clay Pit Pond, updating Town Clerk’s records, and for the repair of tennis courts around town. 

For more information, contact the Community Preservation Hotline at 617-993-2774 or send an e-mail to Michael Trainor at mtrainor@belmont-ma.gov

Six Community Preservation Projects Heading to Town Meeting for OK

Photo: Clay Pit Pond and the location of the intergenerational path.

Projects encompassing a path for all ages, preserving the town’s history and sprucing up community play areas will seek Town Meeting approval as the Community Preservation Committee presents its list of recommended projects to the town’s legislative body next month.

Now in its fourth year, the Committee receives requests for grants that are funded by a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes (about $156 for an average household) which was approved by Belmont voters in November 2010. On average, Belmont generates approximately $1.2 million annually to fund CPC projects.

Funding is restricted for use in four categories: community housing, historic resources, open space and recreation. The committee is responsible for reviewing all submitted applications and send to Town Meeting its recommendations for funding.

For this coming fiscal year, the six projects seeking Town Meeting approval are:

  1. Construction of Intergenerational Walking Path at Clay Pit Pond: $228,350 
  2. Preserving Belmont’s Original Vital Records: $80,000 
  3. Digitizing Belmont’s Town Meeting Records: $85,000 
  4. Town Hall Exterior Railings Improvements: $75,000 
  5. PQ Park Playground Project: $25,000 
  6. Winn Brook Tennis Courts: $325,000 

TOTAL: $818,350

After discussions with Town Officials on Tuesday, April 18, the CPC recommendations vote will place on the first night of Town Meeting, Monday, May 2 at Belmont High School.

For more detailed information on each project, head to the Community Preservation Committee’s web page on the town’s website.

Preservation Committee Approves $818K in Grants; Next Stop, Town Meeting

Photo: PQ Playground.

The Community Preservation Committee will recommend to the annual Town Meeting in May spending a little more than $800,000 on six projects set to preserve the town’s historical records, enhance the open space around a landmark and provide recreation to town residents.

The committee voted on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to approved six out of the seven final applications totaling $818,350. A $50,000 request to the Conservation Commission to create a fund to purchase land was withdrawn by the commission before the vote. 

The list of approved projects include:

• Construction of an Intergenerational Walking Path at Clay Pit Pond. Sponsor: Mary Trudeau, agent, Belmont Conservation Commission. $228,350.

• Preserving Belmont’s Original Vital Records. Sponsor: Ellen Cushman, Belmont Town Clerk. $80,000.

• Digitizing Belmont’s Town Meeting Records, Sponsor: Ellen Cushman, $85,000.

• Town Hall Exterior Railings Improvements. Sponsor: Gerald R. Boyle, Facilities Dept, $75,000.

• Pequossette Playground Revitalization study. Sponsor: Julie Crockett, Friends of PQ Park, $25,000.

• Reconstruction of Winn Brook tennis courts, Sponsor: Jay Marcotte, Belmont DPW, $325,000

The projects sponsors and the CPA committee are scheduled to meet with the Warrant Committee on March 2, said CPC member Floyd Carman while meetings with the Board of Selectmen and Capital Budget Committee are being arranged. 

Adopted by Belmont voters in 2010, the Community Preservation Act fund is financed by a 1.5 percent property tax surcharges  and annual distributions received from the state’s “Massachusetts Community Preservation Trust Fund.”

Seven Projects Make Initial Cut for $1M in Community Preservation Funding

Photo: Clay Pit Pond

Repairing another of town’s tennis courts, installing a walking path and revitalizing a well-known park are some of the seven projects that past muster with the Community Preservation Committee after it announced which applications were approved in the preliminary round of assessments.

The seven applications moving forward in the CPC process are:

Accepted:

  • $75,000 Town Hall Exterior Railings Improvements (Gerald R. Boyle, Town of Belmont – Facilities Dept.)
  • $50,000 Conservation Fund (Mary Trudeau, Agent, Belmont Conservation Commission
  • $250,000 Construction of Intergenerational Walking Path at Clay Pit Pond, (Mary Trudeau, Agent Belmont Conservation Commission)
  • $150,000 PQ Park Revitalization (Julie Crockett, Friends of PQ Park)
  • $325,000 Winn Brook Tennis Courts (Jay Marcotte, Town of Belmont – DPW)
  • $100,000 Preserving Belmont’s Original Vital Records (Ellen Cushman, Town of Belmont – Town Clerk)
  • $60,000 Digitizing Belmont’s Town Meeting Records (Ellen Cushman, Town of Belmont – Town Clerk)

The only project that did not make the initial cut was the largest request this year: $1 million to renovate Hittinger Field – which is adjacent to Belmont High School – from a request from Belmont Youth Baseball and Softball Association, which is adjacent to Belmont High School, by replacing the grass field with a Turf surface. The rejection came after it was determined artificial turf is prohibited under Massachusetts General Law from receiving Community Preservation Act funds.

The remaining applicants are now required to submit more detailed proposals to the committee. A final committee recommendation on funding any of the remaining projects will take place early in 2015. The 2016 annual Town Meeting will have the final say on allocating CPA funds.

The Community Preservation Act was adopted by Belmont voters in 2010. The fund is financed by property tax surcharges and annual distributions received from the State “Massachusetts Community Preservation Trust Fund.”

Got a Project? Need Funding? The CPA Could Be Your Answer

Photo: The Underwood Pool, finance in part with a grant from the Community Preservation Committee.

Do you or your community group have a great idea for a town-wide project but can’t think how to pay for it?

If that’s the case, your answer could be in applying for the fourth-round of funding from the town’s Community Preservation Committee.

According to Town Treasurer and CPC member Floyd Carman, the committee will have approximately $1.2 million to distribute to organizations or town agencies in the fiscal year 2017, beginning July 1, 2016.

“It’s roughly the same amount as last year,” said Carman after the committee’s monthly meeting on Aug. 12.

Using money from a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes and state contributions, the CPC supports a broad range of proposals involving:

  • acquiring or improving open space and recreation land,
  • rehabbing or preserving historic sites, and
  • promoting community housing.

In the past, the CPC has provided funds for the new Underwood Pool, restoring the Pequossette Park tennis courts, first-time homebuyer’s assistance and the electrical upgrade of town-owned housing.

Individuals and groups interested in learning more about the process can attend a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17, at Town Hall where the committee will answer questions and review the extensive process in which projects are evaluated.

Preliminary applications are due on Oct. 4 and final applications are expected on Dec. 4. The CPC will make its final decision on applications on Jan. 15, 2016. The accepted application will then go before the annual Town Meeting in April for final approval.

The new CPA applications are available on the Town of Belmont’s website.

For more information, contact the Community Preservation Hotline at 617-993-2774 or Michael Trainor at mtrainor@belmont-ma.gov